Sen. Allison L. DeGazon's Letter to Department of Health about St. Croix Mosquito Project
Good Day Commissioner Justa Encarnacion,
I write to inform you that I am deeply troubled by your March 19, 2020 letter regarding the St. Croix Mosquito Project. The information shared identifies an experimental initiative by Virgin Islands Department of Health which seeks to combat mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever and Zika, by releasing a sterile male mosquito to evaluate if it will work as it has elsewhere in the US and internationally. However, to garner my support, I must see empirical data derived from similar projects.
In order for us to truly understand the rationale behind this project we must have access to the data that was collected as far back as the 1950’s when a similar approach was used in the territory and to determine how effective the method was. You identified other states and countries that have embarked on this initiative. Where is the data that tells of the success, implications and outcomes?
My research has revealed that the VIDOH through a partnership with Verily, MosquitoMate, National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the CDC are leading the St. Croix Mosquito Project. Verily is the company owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, and has recently been in the national news as the company President Trump claimed was building a national website for corona virus testing access, but actually had no such plans. Verily is a for-profit company. MosquitoMate is also a for-profit entity whose website promotes the use of this Wolbachia mosquito release approach for residences and businesses. Just like the President is pushing a vaccine that has not been tested and deemed effective, this is another project that he has a stake in and the government is conveniently pushing under the disguise of public health. This is a problem and the USVI should not be a part of this questionable business undertaking.
There is also the danger of disrupting the ecosystem balance. As dangerous as mosquitoes are, they have their place in the ecosystem. By seeking to eliminate, sterilize, or target these mosquito populations, other unintended negative effects could result by disrupting our natural, local food chain. We know that there are diseases that need to be eradicated whose transmission comes back to mosquitoes but this way can be detrimental to the environment. It would seem that the weekly release of 300,000 mosquitoes could be a serious bio-terrorism vulnerability if the batch of mosquitoes released were to be negligently or intentionally prepared to cause harm. What safeguards are there to ensure that the mosquitoes are “male only” and not genetically modified or not contain other harmful pathogens of bio-threats? Can we trust the same people who would have a questionable involvement with the COVID-19?
I believe that increasing public health awareness about standing water, action plans on standing water abatement and mosquito netting distribution could be far more effective, safer to the environment and less costly solutions for our island context. We need to see the research showing its effectiveness compared to current mosquito-borne illness control techniques before we join an experimental program with profit-seeking partners. St. Croix cannot be a lab and our residents cannot be lab rats for individuals whose main priority is to profit and may not be to address a public health concern.
In our setting, we have seen countless examples of outside forces and companies seeking to establish a profit-making potential in our Territory by doing things that they could not do elsewhere. We don’t need another example of this with the health of citizens and our ecosystem hanging in the balance. As it stands, I do not support this project.
Senator Allison L. DeGazon
Chairwoman, Economic Development, Regulations & Agriculture Committee